The Orsini of  Bracciano: military leaders, aristocrats and patrons of the arts 

Castello Odescalchi

The precious paintings housed in the Bracciano Castle reflect the history of the Orsini family – one of the most powerful dynasties of Central Italy – during a lengthy period comprised between the late Middle Ages and the end of the 17th century.

The fresco painted by Antoniazzo Romano in 1491 captures a refined image of Gentil Virginio Orsini in the simultaneous guise of valiant leader of the papal army and the militiae of Aragon and sophisticated lord welcoming the Medicis and young Piero to his feud.

Along with his military ambition, Virginio cultivated a passion for art, as shown by his hiring Antoniazzo, a painter greatly appreciated by the lords of Rome and surroundings. Virginio commissioned Antoniazzo to execute the gigantic fresco at the entrance of the main courtyard – currently in the Caesars’ Hall – together with the decoration scheme consisting of elegant ornamental friezes in the receiving halls of the Manor. The great mural painting, in which one can glimpse the most ancient representation of the Bracciano Castle, celebrates the Orsini family’s status at the dawn of the Renaissance, in their role of able businessmen and englightened art buyers.

Tourdion, by Zoltan

The Castle Museum harbours a portrait of Paolo Giordano I around 1560, before he became Duke of Bracciano thanks to his marriage to Isabella Medici, daughter of Cosimo I and Eleonora of Toledo. The painting captures his dual role of knight with an established military career and refined aristocrat.

Around 1550 Paolo Giordano, under the guidance of his influential uncle Cardinal Ascanio Sforza of Santa Fiora, initiated renovation works in the Bracciano residence. He softened the Castle’s austere image through the creation of elegant hanging gardens and the commissioning of frescos painted by Taddeo and Federico Zuccari.

Upon the arrival of Isabella at the Bracciano court the Castle needed to take on the appearance of a residence of refined beauty. The cycle of Eros and Psyche, painted by the Zuccari brothers, was dedicated to Isabella, and aimed to highlight her grace and moral fortitude.

In the adjoining nuptial bedroom, the newlyweds’ emblem towered over the large four-poster bed. At the same time, the ubiquitous scenes of Alexander the Great’s battle feats highlighted Paolo Giordano’s role as military leader and that of his powerful family through a rich repertoire of coats of arms. The latter emphasized the family’s ties with the Farnese, Sforza, Della Rovere and Colonna families.

Paolo Giordano and Isabella begat Eleonora and Virginio, who became orphans early on following their mother’s premature death. There are two portraits depicting Duke Virginio (1572-1615).

A full-body painting shows him dressed like a Roman aristocrat.

The Duke grew up with the Medici under the guidance of his uncle Ferdinando, Great Duke of Tuscany, who encouraged him to marry Flavia Peretti Damasceni, a niece of Pope Sixtus V.

A half-bust portrait represents him proudly wearing his shining armour on which stands out the emblem of the Order of the Golden Fleece, which he obtained in 1605. Thanks to Virginio’s first-born son Paolo Giordano II, the Castle experienced its last glorious season.

Bach, La Pasion segun San Mateo

Paolo Giordano «who, thanks to a perfect balance between magnificence and freedom, managed to unite everyone, especially his subjects», was a tireless patron of baroque culture, a lover of poetry, art and music. When he died leaving no heirs, this marked the end of the flourishing era of the Orsini, long before the Castle was passed on to his nephew Flavio, the last representative of the Bracciano dynasty.

Credits: Story

virtual exhibition by Eleonora Chinappi

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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